Profile - Bob Cunningham - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Bob Cunningham

Year Joined MKLM:

Country: El Salvador

Town: El Zaite, Zaragoza

Ministry: Patronato Lidia Coggiola Community Center

Ministry Area: Education and Leadership Training

Goal of Ministry: To accompany and support the education and empowerment of the people in the El Zaite community.


Nonviolence Focus:


Our work is oriented toward building relationships, helping people access education and leadership development in their own community, and setting a foundation that supports peace.


Ministry Context:

Settled by refugees after the country’s civil war, the El Zaite community has limited access to essential resources for living – food, water and electricity. The area has been gang-controlled, and the people continue to live under the threat of violence. Nationwide, roughly 34% of children do not attend the elementary grade levels; more than 60% of children do not finish high school; and approximately 20% of the population above the age of 10 are illiterate. Available jobs traditionally do not pay a living wage, have unsafe conditions and require long hours. Child labor is prevalent within poorer communities, with 1.8 million children currently employed (see Borgen Project).

El Salvador now has the highest incarceration rate in the world. More than 70,000 people have been detained under the “state of exception,” an emergency measure granting broad powers to the police and military that has been in force for two years (see BBC).


Bob with the Tú Decides teen group at Patronato Lidia Coggiola in El Zaite, El Salvador

Current Ministry:

Liz and Bob assist with the many programs that El Patronato center offers the community, including the Refuerzo after-school program, the Tú Decides (You Decide) teen group and the Colectivo de Mujeres (women’s collective). They helped start the Colectivo de Adultos Mayores, a new program for older adults because there was nothing for them in the community and NGOs tend to focus on other populations. Bob also helps facilitate Alternatives to Violence workshops in the community.

As a member of the pastoral penitenciaria (prison pastoral ministry) at our Lady of Peace Parish in nearby Merliot, Bob visits the Centro Penal de Menores de Tonacatepeque (youth prison) weekly. 


Personal Data:

Bob grew up on Long Island, New York, where he met his future wife, Liz. Bob and Liz raised their three children in the Boston area.

After serving in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Bob began his career in advertising in New York and went on to work at a number of major universities. Following his career in higher education, Bob worked in the areas of spiritual ministry and global health. Bob served as chair of Concord Prison Outreach and on the board of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. He is a recipient of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections Volunteer Award. Bob has degrees from Holy Cross College and New York University.

Bob’s inspiration for joining Maryknoll Lay Missioners comes from the examples set by his family, friends and teachers, most especially: his parents, Robert and Patricia Cunningham; his wife, Liz; and his uncle, Maryknoll Father Bob Lilly.